My life hasn’t been anything like I imagined it would be when I was young. But as I look back on some of the biggest life decisions I’ve made, I realize that when I chose to not go with the money, I always won. Granted, the #winning wasn’t always immediate, but it was always the result. As I take a look back at these decisions, here are some of the things I lost and gained from each.
1. The Mission
At the mature (ha!) age of 19, I left my family, my job, a beautiful girl and my university education, to hop on a plane and fly halfway across the world. For the next two years, I was a missionary in Eastern Germany. I spent every waking hour either talking with people about God, teaching people about God, or preparing to talk with and teach people about God.
What I lost:
- $113,108: Because I postponed by graduation and career for two years, I missed out on $91,108, which was two years of the average salary for University of Utah business school students. The other $22,000 is an approximation of my wages I would have earned had I not left my $8/hr. warehouse job.
- The girl: I had it in my mind that I was going to marry this girl, but after 14 months in Germany, she told me she was engaged. It was a valuable growing experience, but it was rough, even after I came home. The only thing that made me feel better was vowing to steal my future wife away from another missionary. And I did! 🙂
What I gained:
- A case study in rejection: As you can imagine, people aren’t falling over themselves trying to get in a word with the Mormon missionaries (unless it involves profanity and death threats). We dealt with rejection every single day. But it taught me to persevere, that failure is a fact of life, and tomorrow is always a clean slate.
- Maturity: There’s something about living in a foreign country, learning a new language and being pushed outside your comfort zone every day that forces you to grow. I had to learn to think on my feet (you can imagine all the questions we got about Mormons). I had to learn to work no matter the conditions (I still remember biking in torrential downpours and going from door to door when it was -30° Fahrenheit). I learned how to love people regardless of their background, religion or political leanings. Oh, and I also learned quite a bit about financial independence.
- And lots, lots more: It’s hard to go into depth about just how much my mission changed my life. I could write a book about it. It’s the best decision I have ever made by far.
2. Transferring to BYU
Before my mission, I attended the University of Utah on a four-year full-tuition scholarship. When I came back from Germany, though, a friend of mine tried talking me into transferring to BYU. Financially, it made no sense. I was living at home, already had a job and didn’t have to pay tuition. But in spite of all that, something was pulling me 40 miles south, so I did it.
What I lost:
- $???: There’s no way to know for sure. After all, I ended up getting a better job after I moved, and I qualified for a half-tuition scholarship until my last couple semesters. But I also had to pay the leftover tuition, rent and food. The most important thing, though, is that I didn’t know any of this when I made the decision. I also didn’t have much money, so it was my first time freaking out over how I was going support myself.
What I gained:
- Self-reliance: Even though I was technically on my own in Germany, all my expenses were paid by my parents and the church. When I moved out, I was on my own for realz. So I decided to work full-time to avoid student loans. I learned to do minor car repairs to save money. I started setting financial goals, budgeting and saving so I could prepare for the future. I even learned how to cook! (Although it was a tough evolution from Ramen to Pasta Roni to actually cooking).
- A great education: Don’t get me wrong, the University of Utah is a quality school. But BYU’s business school was ranked #13 in the nation by Bloomberg while Utah’s business school was ranked #126. Also the basketball team was better, which is mucho importante.
- I met my wife: This is obviously the biggest gain by far. There have been some major rough spots in our almost five years of marriage, but I can’t imagine how I ever lived without her before we met. I definitely got the better end of that deal. 🙂
3. Going to Fiji
A year after transferring to BYU, my roommate told me about a program where students could go to Fiji for six weeks to teach business classes with a non-profit organization. I had always wanted to do something like that, but was too chicken, so having him go with me was perfect. He ended up bailing, but I had already put down a deposit on the trip, so I still went.
What I lost:
- $7,000: Between the $1,000 I spent for the program fees (I raised about $2,700 to cover the rest), lost wages and the $2,000 I spent in-country, I had a negative balance in my bank account when I got home and had to take out a short-term loan to pay for tuition.
- My job (almost): Before I made the decision to go, I double, triple and quadruple checked with all the necessary people at work to make sure I could take the time off. I used all my vacation time and took an approved leave of absence. But the day after I left, I got an email from HR telling me I was fired. The only thing that saved me was the incompetence of the HR Director, who filled out the termination paperwork wrong. By the time I got back, she had been replaced, and the new HR Director let me have my job back. Even so, it was hard to wonder the entire time what I was going to do once my time in paradise ended.
What I gained:
- A trip of a lifetime: Above, I mentioned I spent $2,000 in-country. During the weeks, we spent all our time in local villages teaching business, building adobe stoves, and creating square foot gardens. But we had the weekends to ourselves. I went skydiving over Fiji, Zorbing in New Zealand, whitewater rafting and spent lots of time on beaches. I also gained valuable friendships that I still enjoy. I also lived in a small house with one other guy and 15 girls—which was an experience of a lifetime by itself.
- An appreciation for what I have: And for the need in this world. As fun as the weekends were, I was always anxious to get back to the villages. The people were wonderful. Their happiness was contagious. I learned so much about money from these people who had none. Now, every time I spend too much time on my problems, I think of my Fijian friends, and I remember that I am blessed and that I can make a difference.
4. Moving to Arkansas
After graduation, I had an option to continue my internship in financial planning full-time. I was one of the top interns in the country, so there was a good chance I would hit the ground running. For some reason, though, both my wife and I had a strong feeling we should move to Arkansas to be closer to her family. As much as I loved what I was doing, we took a leap of faith and moved halfway across the country.
What I lost:
- $$$?: Again, it’s hard to know how much money I lost because the financial planning job was commission-based. But while all of this was happening, we had $6,000 in medical bills to pay on top of the $2,500 it cost to move. Also, between being unemployed the first six months and being underemployed the next six, I only earned $10,000 my first year out of college.
- My self-confidence: 2013 was a sucky year. It hurts even now to think about it. There were times I felt worthless. I had no hope that I would ever have a career in finance. For months, I just gave up. I also adopted unhealthy eating habits that I still deal with today. It was a struggle.
What I gained:
- Perspective: When life gives you lemons, you should freeze them and throw them at the people making your life hard. At least that’s how I felt those first few months. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that being bitter was hurting me more than my circumstances were.
- A blog: That’s right. This baby was conceived out of my desperate attempts to create an opportunity when I couldn’t find one elsewhere. I had seen several other bloggers making a respectable income from blogging, so I might as well try. Honestly, I’ve made very little from this blog. But it was a stepping stone to freelance writing, and within just a few months I was earning thousands a month. Finally, a year and a half after I started my blog, I accepted a full-time writing position that mixes three of my favorite things: personal finance, writing and working from home. 🙂
Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to look back and think about these decisions as no-brainers. At the moment, though, each decision was a gigantic leap of faith with a lot of money on the line. And the funniest thing? None of them were particularly difficult to make, which proves to me that when you take money out of the equation of your most important decisions, things tend to work out a lot better in the end.